SOUTHINGTON — The library building committee has met criticism from the Friends of the Southington Public Library group, for what they feel has been a lack of communication about the future of their programming space.
Sending a letter to the chair of the board, Republican Town Councilor Jim Morelli, the group expressed concerns regarding the need for more communication and how the reduced size of the building from its original 30,000-square-foot proposal could impact their ability to operate in the new space. With many of their members unable to come to the building committee meetings on a regular basis, many are unaware of what their new space will be like — or if it will be adequate enough to accommodate their continued work.
The volunteer group, comprised primarily of seniors passionate about the library's role in the community, donate books to the library and help the staff pay for things outside of the normal operating budget — having raised over $400,000 since their founding in 1996.
With a 600-square-foot bookstore in the basement of the current library, the group has expressed concerns that the 24,000-square-foot building as planned won’t be big enough for themselves and the Southington community long term as it continues to expand.
‘We're concerned with the amount of space that we have because we are able to give the library a reasonable amount of money every year. But if our space is cut, we will probably not be able to do as well as we have in the past,” President of Friends of the Southington Public Library Virginia Siton said. “We're just hoping we have enough room to display all the wonderful donated books that we get. The community has been very good to us regarding giving us books, and we just want to make sure we have enough room to display them.”
Morelli responded to the concerns at a library building committee meeting, saying he would compose a letter to the group. He also plans to hold a special meeting with them to go over the plans and explain in detail what they will and will not get. Part of the disconnect between the groups, Morelli said, was likely the departure of the executive director of the library Kristi Sadowski back in October — who was the main point of contact in communicating with the group.
In the conceptual plan for the new library, there is a space set aside for the Friends as well as a separate bookstore area, but the Friends’ space appears smaller than what they have available in the current library. With the wealth of new programming space, however, the board contends it won’t be an issue.
Their “concerns are that we were going to minimize or degrade their space and not allow them work areas, which is a hundred percent wrong,” Morelli said at the meeting. “There was a little disconnect. And I think part of that was when Kristi left... Nobody else picked up the conversation.”
The board has often reiterated throughout the planning process that although the new building is on paper 3,000 square feet larger than the current building, a large portion of the current space is not usable or adequate for the public — especially in the basement. The new plan aims to maximize usable space and provide even better facilities for the staff.
“So what we're doing is very tough to do in this environment,” Vice Chair Paul Champagne said. “When you get the restrictions that we've had put on us, with the economy, people don't realize that they're getting a much better building. They keep saying it's only 3,000 square feet bigger — it's not. You're counting in the basement and everything there, that's really not useful for the public.”
During the rest of the meeting, the board debated whether or not to use a camera to take photos of the construction site for the public to view. It would add an additional expense of around $1,400, which board member Ralph Warner objected to — seeing it as an unnecessary expense on a project already over budget.
With Town Council approval of the library plan as presented during a meeting on Monday, the library building project continues ahead on schedule. The Friends are hopeful the facilities will be adequate for the future of the group, as they remain passionate about the library and want to continue to put the space to use for the whole community.
“We love it. I mean, we're happy,” Siton said. “It means a great deal to us, that's why we're volunteering to try to help them out.”